God’s Bits of Wood Summary and Study Guide

Ousmane Sembène

God’s Bits of Wood

  • 47-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 20 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with a Master's degree in English Literature
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God’s Bits of Wood Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 47-page guide for “God’s Bits of Wood” by Ousmane Sembène includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 20 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Assets and Liabilities of the Erosion of Traditional African Culture and The Futility of Retaliation.

Plot Summary

The novel God’s Bits of Wood, by Ousmane Sembène, is based on actual events surrounding the Senegalese railway workers strike of 1947 and depicts the impact of the poverty and racism endured by the railway workers and their families. The book is set in both Senegal and Mali. Oppressed by the French colonial railway administrators, the railway workers union seeks to obtain family allowances and pension benefits. The lives of various extended families residing in compounds are explored, and Sembène provides the reader with descriptions of the repercussions of the strike as viewed from the perspective of various male and female characters. While the interactions of the union leaders with one another and their immediate and extended families are explored, it is the viewpoint of Bakayoko, the primary union leader, who is afforded the most attention. Although he does not make a personal appearance until the latter third of the book, the adulation with which he is regarded by the community is described at length.

Juxtaposed with the impoverished shanties in which many of the workers reside is “The Vatican,” a bourgeoisie suburban enclave of ex-patriot French railway administrators. Somewhat besotted with power, most of the managers, especially Isnard, feel that they have devoted their lives to actually improving the lives of the native residents of the area. Both the strikers and the management suffer various hardships as a result of the job action, despite the fact that the families of the workers suffer from deprivation of food and water.

Philosophical and spiritual growth on the part of certain characters is examined at length. Specifically, the increasing power of the previously-subjugated women is explored, as initially-reticent characters take a stand in support of their husbands, the strikers. Their three-day march from Thiès to Dakar is the climax of the book, and is in contrast to the male-dominated labor negotiations that preceded it. Archetypal characters such as the blind Maimouna, who often functions at the level of a prophet, and the elder Fa Keita, who implores the triumphant workers to reject murder, hatred, and bitterness, perform didactic functions within the structure of this work.

The author, Ousmane Sembène (1923-2007), was a native of Senegal and self-educated. While living in Dakar as a young man, he was drafted into the French army; subsequently, he relocated to France, joined the Communist Party, and became a union organizer. His experiences inform the highly detailed, semi-autobiographical tone of God’s Bits of Wood.

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Chapters 1-3